Bluetooth: A Sound Improvement

New LE Audio specification promises a raft of improvements

Bluetooth connectivity technology was created more than two decades ago. It was originally developed as a short-range wireless communication protocol to connect handsets to computers and accessories, but it has become one of the most widely implemented connectivity specifications, built into a vast array of devices. Now, it’s set for its biggest update ever.

Last week at CES, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced LE Audio, a complete redesign of the Bluetooth audio stack, built on years of learning and development. The announcement has perhaps flown under the radar, but it has huge significance, as the upgrade will soon launch alongside the classic Bluetooth technology that has been in use for the past 20 years. LE Audio will bring improvements such as higher-quality sound, support for hearing aids, the ability to broadcast to multiple people at once and new features to address the popularity of wireless earbuds.

LE Audio harnesses a new high-quality, low-power audio codec called Low Complexity Communication Codec. This brings stronger performance and better power consumption by offering high-quality audio even at low data rates. Thanks to the less intensive nature of the codec, developers will be able to create audio products that provide longer battery life. As a result, the new standard expands on the flexibility and functionality of audio playback over Bluetooth, giving greater control to developers.

The benefits don’t stop there. The advantages of LE Audio over traditional Bluetooth also include native support for devices such as hearing aids and the addition of features like audio sharing. Whereas traditional Bluetooth technology limits audio streaming to a single device, LE Audio includes a Broadcast Audio feature, allowing multiple connections.

This will arrive in two different flavours. The first is personal audio sharing, which lets users share Bluetooth streams with nearby devices, allowing content such as music on a smartphone, for example, to be enjoyed by multiple people with their own Bluetooth-enabled headphones or earbuds.

The second aspect of Broadcast Audio may be even more interesting. It enables location-based sharing at public venues, so locations like airports, bars, gyms, cinemas, conference centres and more will be able to share Bluetooth audio streams. There are lots of possible uses for this. For example, people could choose to tune into the audio being broadcast by silent TVs in public areas, and venues such as theatres and cinemas could offer audio sharing specifically for people with hearing loss, or even provide audio in multiple languages.

It should be noted that Bluetooth LE Audio isn’t a software update; instead, it needs new hardware to work. Current devices won’t be compatible with the specification, which will be released in the first half of 2020, but they will continue to function as normal using the existing Bluetooth standard.

The Bluetooth SIG has been incredibly successful with its original connectivity specification, found in practically every connected consumer device made today. This new version of the technology is an exciting and important update that will enable more seamless sharing of audio content. It will also bring a wide array of benefits for spaces and places that use wireless audio, as well as end-users. It sounds like a promising idea.